FCW @ 30

CIA commits to the cloud

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CIA's aim in moving to the cloud was to collect information in a private cloud behind an intelligence community firewall where it could be preserved forever.

In 2013, FCW reported that the CIA had signed a cloud computing contract with e-commerce giant Amazon worth as much as $600 million over 10 years.

The deal, which had survived months of protests by rival IBM, marked a watershed moment in overcoming agency reluctance to consider cloud technology for sensitive and mission-critical systems.

Highlights from 30 years of FCW

Timeline: Three decades of covering federal IT's most important stories

June 1988: IRS promises nationwide electronic filing

July 1994: Hackers storm DOD networks

February 1996: Clinger-Cohen and the end of the Brooks Act

May 2000: The opening up of GPS

November 2002: The creation of DHS

March 2013: CIA commits to the cloud

In fact, the CIA's aim was to collect information in a private cloud behind an intelligence community firewall where it could be preserved forever.

"The value of any piece of information is only known when you can connect it with something else that arrives at a future point in time," CIA Chief Technology Officer Gus Hunt said at the time. "Since you can't connect dots you don't have, it drives us into a mode of…fundamentally [trying] to collect everything and hang on to it forever."

The project also provided a reference model for other agencies looking for ways to bring their operational data into the cloud. That's been the case for members of the intelligence community, the group of 17 agencies for which the CIA has helped manage the Amazon Web Services acquisition.

Last summer, National Security Agency officials said the new cloud infrastructure was already helping intelligence agencies smooth the transition from older legacy systems, making them easier to secure.

The project went live in August 2014, and industry experts say its success so far will encourage other agencies to forge new cloud partnerships.

"They will say, 'Well, if the security and performance [are] good [enough] for the CIA, then it's probably good enough for us,'" Andy Jassy, senior vice president of Amazon Web Services, told Fortune magazine.

About the Author

Paul McCloskey is senior editor of GCN. A former editor-in-chief of both GCN and FCW, McCloskey was part of Federal Computer Week's founding editorial staff.

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